Welcome to the first installment of the Hot R&B Singles Review where I look at the songs that hit number one on the Hot R&B Singles chart (now known as the Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart) in the 90s. Why the R&B charts and the 90s? Because I wanted to and because I love the 90s. Plus, I don’t see a lot of music reviewers cover R&B, so why not get in on this niche genre? The rules will be no different from the Hot Rap Songs Review posts with one little sidenote: we might run into some hip-hop songs because the line between R&B and hip-hop has been blurred and is getting blurrier as time goes on. There are some hip-hop songs that I’ve already covered in the Hot Rap Songs Reviews that will be on these lists, so I’ll be skipping those. Now that we got that out the way, let’s get started.
Tender Love-Babyface: We start things off with Babyface, a prominent songwriter and producer in R&B who ushered in the new jack swing era. You wanted a hit, he’s one of the go-to guys for that. This brings us to Tender Love, a song that’s definitely a product of its times with its synth-heavy production. This could have only existed in the 80s (hey, 1990 technically counts as the 80s in terms of trends). The singing is pretty good all-around from both Babyface and Troop, who contribute backing vocals. This is a good song overall, though not one of my all-time favorites. I give it a 3.5/5.
Rhythm Nation-Janet Jackson: Here’s an iconic song that everyone knows, one that I did a Musical Appreciation on. Rhythm Nation is a song that made Janet Jackson an icon. Alongside some industrial production that’s upbeat and made for dancing, the writing was inspired by the social-political environment of the time, which honestly isn’t that different from today. I don’t have any new words to say about the music video. That shit is just iconic and has been imitated by several artists afterwards. I give Rhythm Nation a perfect 5/5.
I’ll Be Good To You-Quincy Jones ft Ray Charles & Chaka Khan: Next up is a cover to a Brothers Johnson song called I’ll Be Good To You, done by the song’s original producer Quincy Jones. This cover has 80s production that didn’t really age well, especially compared to the original from 1976. Singing this song is Ray Charles and Chaka Khan, who both sound great, especially Ray Charles, who still had it even after all those years. Overall, while I’m not a fan of the production, this is a solid enough cover that doesn’t diminish the original. I give it a 3.5/5.
Make It Like It Was-Regina Belle: Most of us know of Regina Belle thanks to her and Peabo Bryson’s cover of A Whole New World from Aladdin. Before that, she had a solid career that goes all the way back to the mid-80s and she’s here with Make It Like It Was. It’s alright. It’s another R&B ballad of the late 80s and early 90s with some really good singing and decent production. Not bad, but not anything great, either. This is not one of those that I would rush to revisit. I give it a 3/5.
Real Love-Skyy: A really meh ballad from a mostly forgotten act. I don’t got much to say about it. I give it a 2/5.
It’s Gonna Be Alright-Ruby Turner: Next, we have British Jamaican singer Ruby Turner with It’s Gonna Be Alright. It’s a good song with a danceable beat and some solid singing for this type of song. Not great, but good enough. I give it a 3.5/5.
Where Do We Go From Here-Stacy Lattisaw & Johnny Gill: Stacey Lattisaw has had a decent career throughout the 80s even if she never was that huge. Her first and only number one hit on the R&B charts is a duet with Johnny Gill called Where Do We Go From Here. This isn’t the first time these two have collaborated and you can tell that they have chemistry because they sound amazing together. The music has a gospel feel to it, especially with those choirs behind it. It’s a well-crafted love ballad that shows off the strengths of its singers. I give it a 4/5.
Escapade-Janet Jackson: Sweet. More Janet Jackson. Escapade is another one of Janet’s classic dance tracks. The beat has a lot of power behind its groove and is one of the better synth-driven R&B tracks of the time. I also like how the bells come in during the chorus. Fun fact: this song was inspired by the Martha & The Vandellas hit Nowhere To Run, which Janet had originally planned to cover, but producer Jimmy Jam suggested recording a new song. It was another number one hit for Janet and it deserves it because it is a great pop song. I give it a 4.5/5.
The Secret Garden (Sweet Seduction Suite)-Quincy Jones ft Al B. Sure, James Ingram, El DeBarge, & Barry White: Now here’s an all-star collaboration if there isn’t one. Quincy Jones assembled Barry White, Al B. Sure, El DeBarge, and James Ingram for The Secret Garden. The song starts off with a spoken-word Barry White intro because what better way to start off a sexy slow jam than with Barry friggin’ White? He was great here alongside the other singers. They set the right mood for some lovemaking and Quincy Jones blessed the track with some great music to back them up. R.I.P. to both Barry White and James Ingram. I give this song a 4/5.
All Around The World-Lisa Stansfield: Dude, I love this song. It’s just so infectious and well-made. All Around The World is sung by Lisa Stansfield, a British white lady who sounds like a black woman. Seriously, I didn’t realize that when I first heard this song. It has a great beat behind it and Lisa Stansfield has some pipes to her. She nails the sorrow one feels when their significant other leaves and they’re all sad and shit. This song would eventually be interpolated for a mediocre Puff Daddy track Been Around The World. I give it a 4.5/5.
Spread My Wings-Troop: Ehh, it’s okay. It’s pretty much an R&B song of its time with decent production, vocals, everything. I wouldn’t mind if it came on, but I wouldn’t put it on my playlist, either. It’s a 3/5.
Ready Or Not-After 7: Another okay R&B ballad, this time, coming from After 7, a group that includes the brothers of Babyface, who wrote and produced this song alongside L.A. Reid. I give it a 3/5.
Poison-Bell Biv DeVoe: Ricky Bell, Michael Bivens, and Ronnie DeVoe formed Bell Biv DeVoe after New Edition split up and they opted to make more mature, hard-edged music from their New Edition days. This brings us to Poison. I named it the best song of 1990 and now I’m talking about it again. Poison is the new jack swing song that defines all new jack swing songs. The beat bumps like crazy, walking the thin line between R&B and hip-hop. Those drums, though. MAN!! How could you not want to dance along to this? The song itself is about a girl who is pretty much bad news. The framing of the song at times is questionable, but everything else in the song is so good, you don’t even bother questioning it. You want a song that’s a good representation of the 90s? Here you go. Bell Biv DeVoe, now you know. I give this a perfect 5/5.
Rub You The Right Way-Johnny Gill: While we’re on the subject of New Edition, Johnny Gill went solo and he’s done pretty well, notching some hits under his belt like Rub You The Right Way, which is about exactly what you think is about, being rubbed the right way. Johnny Gill’s rougher vocal texture, along with a slamming new jack swing beat, makes for a perfectly raunchy sex jam. I give it a 5/5.
Hold On-En Vogue: Here’s Hold On, the debut single of En Vogue, one of many R&B girl groups that would dominate the 90s. The song starts with an a cappella rendition of Who’s Lovin’ You by the Miracles before transitioning into a beat that samples James Brown’s The Big Payback. These girls got pipes and they just belt it out throughout. This is a really good song that you shouldn’t gloss over. I give it a 5/5.
The Blues-Tony, Toni, Toné: Next up is Tony, Toni, Toné with The Blues. Honestly, this isn’t one of my favorite songs from the group, but it’s alright. It has some nice grooves that are definitely a throwback and the singing is pretty solid all around. I give it a 3/5.
Tomorrow (A Better You, A Better Me)-Quincy Jones ft Tevin Campbell: Back in my Worst of ’92 list, I didn’t have nice things to say about Tevin Campbell. While I’m still not a fan of his, my stance on him has softened a bit. Anyways, he’s worked with Quincy Jones on Tomorrow (A Better You, A Better Me), a cover of the Brothers Johnson song of the same name. Yeah, I don’t like this. The updated production doesn’t really live up to the original and Tevin still sounds like a Michael Jackson wannabe with lovey-dovey lyrics that makes me want to puke. I’ll give the kid the benefit of the doubt that he was just starting up, but that doesn’t make this song any good. I give it a 1/5. Sorry.
U Can’t Touch This-MC Hammer: Who doesn’t know this one? This is one of those songs that has been engrained in pop culture where even people who don’t listen to rap know this song. U Can’t Touch This, which comes from the guy who, alongside Vanilla Ice, helped push rap to the mainstream, MC Hammer. Some of you probably expect me to hate this song and bash it, but honestly, I can’t. Let’s make something clear: Hammer is a good entertainer, but he’s not a good rapper. The dude can dance his ass off and put on a show, but when it comes to spitting bars, he’s mediocre, especially on this one. But that’s not the appeal of this song. It’s the production, which samples Super Freak by Rick James, and I have to admit, the shit does go hard and it helps that the song is catchy. It’s probably one of the best songs that Hammer has ever made and I can’t really hate it when he’s made worse throughout his career. I give U Can’t Touch This a 3/5.
All I Do Is Think Of You-Troop: Next is a cover to a Jackson 5 song called All I Do Is Think Of You, performed by Troop. The song is about a boy who falls in love with a girl who attends the same school as him and he can’t stop thinking about her. Why is it that Michael is one of the few kid stars who makes this shit sound effortless while others who try to do the same thing sound forced? The Troop version is doing too much, especially on the production, which was way overblown. The same thing applies to the vocals, which are heavy in reverb. Yeah, I’m not feeling this. I give it a 2/5.
You Can’t Deny It-Lisa Stansfield: When compared to All Around The World, You Can’t Deny It is just alright. It’s well-produced and Lisa Stansfield still sounds good, but it just doesn’t have the same replay value. I give it a 3/5.
My, My, My-Johnny Gill: It’s not bad, I guess. The vocals are good, but the music is a bit too smooth-jazzy for my taste, which isn’t helped by the fact that Kenny G contributed to the song. Seriously. Johnny Gill has made better songs than this. I give it a 2.5/5.
Make You Sweat-Keith Sweat: Next, we have Keith Sweat, one of the pioneers of new jack swing. This dude has made some dope jams of the 80s and 90s with Make You Sweat being one of them. It’s a sex jam with a slamming ass beat behind it. Granted, Keith Sweat saying “don’t tell me no” and “you say no, I say yes” is questionable, but I’d chalk that up to poor choice of words rather than anything malicious. Hell, the whole feel of the song is more playful. Anyways, I give this song a 3.5/5.
Can’t Stop-After 7: It’s alright. I give it a 3/5.
Vision Of Love-Mariah Carey: The song that put Mariah Carey on the map and would start a hugely successful career for her. Vision Of Love was her debut single and her first of 18 number one hits on the Hot 100. And boy, did she make a good first impression because this song is great. It’s the sort of big ballad that shows off Mariah’s vocal range and she belts it out. It also shows that she can hit the whistle register that very few singers could pull off. Vision Of Love, it’s one of Mariah’s best songs throughout her entire career. I give it a 5/5.
Jerk Out-The Time: This particular song is interesting thanks to its history. The Time recorded this song with Prince back in December of 1981 during the recording sessions of their album What Time Is It?, but it was never released. Then, Prince re-recorded the song in spring of 1985 for the band Mazarati. Then, in the fall of 1989, The Time re-recorded the song for their 1990 album Pandemonium. So how is the song itself? Well, while I think this song is a pretty solid party jam with funky grooves and some great musicianship that comes from the Prince touch, it sounds dated as hell in 1990. It sounds like something from 1985, so it’s weird to hear it in the 90s. That’s just me. The song is still good, though not one of my favorites. Although I do find it funny that they say jerk and jerkin’ so many times, it sounds like they’re talking about jerking off instead. I’m just joking. I give this song a 4/5.
Feels Good-Tony, Toni, Toné: Here’s Feels Good, Tony, Toni, Toné’s best known song outside of Let’s Get Down. It’s the perfect song to play on a Friday before the weekend starts thanks to its bright, energetic beat and Raphael Saadiq’s performance. It also features a rap verse from Tupac’s step-brother Mopreme Shakur. It’s a great song and a 90s R&B classic. I give it a 4.5/5.
Lies-En Vogue: In terms of En Vogue singles, Lies isn’t one of my favorite songs from them. It has good singing, but the production doesn’t really do it for me and the song doesn’t have much replay value. I give it a 3/5.
Crazy-The Boys: Meh. Sounds like a Kidz Bop version of an R&B song of the times. It gets a 2/5.
Thieves In The Temple-Prince: We talked about a song that Prince produced, now let’s talk about an actual Prince song. Thieves In The Temple. It’s a dope ass song with some glossy synths, drum machines, and guitar riffs. Prince kills this song vocally, being the Prince that we all know and love. The writing is aimed at someone who lied to Prince and betrayed his trust. Thieves In The Temples is another great Prince song and I give it a 4/5.
Giving You The Benefit-Pebbles: Next up is Pebbles, who helped form TLC and managed the group. Before that, she had a successful music career in the late 80s and now, we’re going to talk about Giving You The Benefit, which was the longest-running number one single of the R&B charts in 1990, spending three weeks at the top. And it’s just okay. The production is very late 80s, the singing is alright, and the idea of working things out in a relationship isn’t that bad. It’s the perfect definition of an okay song, one that isn’t terrible, but not great either. I give it a 3/5.
So You Like What You See-Samuelle: True story: I didn’t know what this song was, yet it sounded familiar to me and I couldn’t figure out why. Then, I remembered that it was in Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas and it all clicked. This was the music that was playing in the strip clubs of that game and was on the new jack swing station CSR 103.9. Anyways, this is So You Like What You See by Samuelle, a former member of Club Noveau. It’s an alright song with a subdued new jack swing beat and Samuelle is talking to a girl who’s into him and I’m sorry, but I can’t help but think that this sounds like background music for a strip club. Thanks, Rockstar Games. I give this song a 3/5.
Love Takes Time-Mariah Carey: After the success of Vision Of Love, Mariah released Love Takes Time as her second single and it also became a number one hit. And it’s another great ballad from her. From the production to the vocal performance from Mariah, it just hits you and it sounds amazing. Good stuff. I give it a 5/5.
B.B.D. (I Thought It Was Me)-Bell Biv DeVoe: Not a good as Poison and it doesn’t have the same replay value, but B.B.D. (I Thought It Was Me) is a decent song from Bell Biv DeVoe. I give it a 3/5.
Misunderstanding-Al B. Sure: It’s okay. I give it a 3/5.
I’m Your Baby Tonight-Whitney Houston: We all know Whitney Houston has made some great songs and is an exceptionally talented voice. That is a fact. But let’s call a spade a spade: I’m Your Baby Tonight sucks. This is Whitney stepping out of her comfort zone and going into new jack swing and it does not work for her. It doesn’t give her room to show off her amazing voice. It doesn’t help that the production is stale as hell. The only good thing in the song is Whitney’s singing, which still sounds good even when she isn’t at her best. So yeah. I’m not feeling this. I give it a 1.5/5. I hate doing that to Whitney Houston, but a bad song is a bad song.
Sensitivity-Ralph Tresvant: On the subject of New Edition, we talked about Bell Biv DeVoe and Johnny Gill. Now let’s talk about Ralph Tresvant, who scored a big hit with Sensitivity. It’s a song where Ralph is comforting a girl who broke up with her boyfriend. A bit opportunist, but hey, at least he waited until she was single. The singing from Ralph is pretty good and we get some nice production as well. Overall, a good song and I would give a 4/5.
It Never Rains (In Southern California)-Tony, Toni, Toné: We conclude with Tony, Toni, Toné and It Never Rains (In Southern California), a statement that, in recent times, is a straight-up lie speaking as a resident of Southern California. Strangely enough, this is not a cover to the Albert Hammond song of the same name, it’s completely original. I will say this: I’d rather listen to this than the Albert Hammond version. Raphael Saadiq sounds great and the production is nice and slick. I give it a 4/5.
Rhythm Nation, Vision Of Love
Tomorrow (A Better You, A Better Me)
I’m Your Baby Tonight
And those were the number one songs on the Hot R&B Singles chart of 1990. Next time, we’ll be looking at the number one Hot R&B Singles of 1991.